Metaphors and similes are an imaginative galaxy which greater minds than mine have explored. That doesn’t stop me gathering dazzling and original examples to enliven human exchange, expanding the choice of vigorous, beautiful ways to sharpen how we think, read, write and speak.

As humourless as …

As humourless as …

A curious yet convincing simile for lacking humour, by the great metaphorist John Steinbeck.  What would come to your mind to complete 'as humourless as ...'?With apologies to all chickens, if they happen to be merrier than is visible to the human eye.  And if their...

The jewel of learning

The jewel of learning

An original simile to describe the architecturally solid seat of learning in Dublin, set in and setting off the relative ignorance of the surrounding city - I liked this use of a jewellery metaphor to make the contrast.  The grey block of Trinity on his left, set...

Of narrow streets and bad thoughts

Of narrow streets and bad thoughts

The narrowing effect of skinny, suffocating city alleys is likened to the bad thoughts they might trigger.  And how cleverly she anatomizes the tendency of such thoughts to deliver one to another in a miserable labyrinth of angst. ... alley-narrow, suspicious,...

The coming of the simoom

The coming of the simoom

This lovely word, which echoes its opposite, a monsoon, refers to a soughingly dry desert wind.  Yet another superb simile by Joyce on the effects of emotions upon the heart.Stephen's heart had withered up like a flower of the desert that feels the simoom coming from...

Of a heart dancing

Of a heart dancing

A marvellous simile for the effect of a woman's movements on a man's heart.  I take it to mean her movements are as expansive in their effect on him as the tide on which his emotions bob like a cork, without any agency of its own. His heart danced upon her movements...

Of perfumed poems

Of perfumed poems

James Joyce' use of an olfactory metaphor to describe Horace's poetry is echoed in another simile drawing on perfumed herbs, evoking a rush of emotions.... the dusky verses were as fragrant as though they had lain all those years in myrtle and lavender and...

Someday the history of metaphor will be written and we shall at last grasp all the truths and misconceptions in which this intensely speculative subject abounds.  

Source: Jorge Luis Borges, On Writing, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2010, p. 45

The call of duty

This magnificent story, which features lions in unexpected places, describes the look of the kingly creature when glimpsed at dawn, his stern expression likened to the call of duty pulling...

Looking good

The poor old boy, pallid and wan, in stark and merciless juxtaposition to the ruddy picture of health and well-being, Sir James.  'Skinned over for the occasion', beat that.

Naked

From a tender children’s book, reinventing Vivaldi’s school for girl musicians, one of whom was named in a register and then brought to life by the imagination of Crossley-Holland. ‘Naked as...

As softly as …

What a place, what a time, the two idyllic years Durrell spent in Rhodes after the war.  His account is full of lyrical descriptions of scenes and sounds, and what...

As miraculous and consoling as…

I wish you some miraculous and consoling intimations that feel like Helen's hand laid across your brow.

'... an intimation as miraculous and consoling as the hand of Argive Helen...

Eyes

You can see these bulbous perhaps hazel eyes popping out of someone’s head in astonishment.

‘His eyes were standing out of his head like a pair of toffee-apples.’

Source: Adam...

A well of terror

In this convincing tale of a urban lions, Hoban manages to capture the grip of fear, both as a serpent of panic and a bottomless well of terror.

'The snaky...

As insensible as …

Of course, we can't know (yet) how insensible a fungus is, but until we learn otherwise, what a memorable way to convey a loss of wonder.  Apologies to all wondering...

The ground beneath your feet…

Having just re-read a beloved book about the Arctic, this resonates. The fear, loneliness and disorientation of a young girl whose world has been capsized is summed up in a...

As wriggly as…

Such a friendly word for a sinuous path, and so the likening to a piece of thread fallen on a carpet carries home.

'The path is as wriggly as...

As white as …

Probably the liveliest simile for whiteness I've come across, though I have highlighted others, less earthy.

'Daniel, you're as white as a nun's...

How many lifetimes does it take to learn the facts of life?  

(And how long do you have to live to recover from them…?) 

Is it fact that helps us recover – or is it metaphor?  

Source: Molly Peacock,The Paper Garden (London: Bloomsbury, 2012), p. 63 – click here for the bestellar review of this glorious book.

The thinker, with his metaphors, will illuminate the external world through intangible ideas that for him are intimate and immediate.   

Source: Jorge Luis Borges, On Writing, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2010, p. 6

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